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Almost everyone has told scary stories around a campfire. We all have stories we use to entertain and scare.
These stories are called urban myths. They have just enough believable detail they seem true. They play on our worst fears, and in the right setting, terrify us. They’re harmless fun, until they are believed and spread as true.
It’s no secret, America is in a culture war, and new urban myths seem to be springing up, but these aren’t like the campfire stories. These are weaponized myths are used in the culture war to demean public schools and devalue some students.
One example is the myth that some public schools are accommodating students who identify as animals with litter boxes in the restrooms. The rumor was spreading enough that Casey Burlau, superintendent of Carroll Community school, sent a letter to parents dispelling it.
But like all urban myths, this one didn’t begin or end in Carroll, Iowa.
This same story popped up in a few school districts across the country, starting with Midland Public Schools in Michigan in December after a parent brought up concerns about litter boxes in restrooms at a school board meeting.
So, why did an outrageous myth like this gain traction and have some parents believing it? This started as a mean attempt by some on the Right to mock LGBT+ students fighting for public restroom equity.
It was believed because many people, including parents, haven’t stepped foot in a public school since they graduated. So, that big building, with a football field outside is a mystery.
Now, the Iowa Senate has passed a law that tries to turn two weaponized myths into law.
Senate File 2369 has two parts. the first part is the “Parents bill of Rights” implying parents don’t have rights without this law. They do. But along with rights comes responsibility. The second part implies there’s no school choice in Iowa. There is.
Parents need to attend parent teacher conferences, correspond with their son or daughter’s teachers, read the newsletter, visit school, go to school board meetings, and actually talk to their own kids about school. All of this can be done without a bill of rights.
The curriculum is not a secret, hidden away in a locked vault. All school districts have board policies addressing how parents can raise issues about what’s happening at school. Also, parents may speak at school board meetings.
Teachers want parents to partner with them to reinforce showing up on time, listening, doing homework, turning cellphones off, and being respectful. What they don’t want is parents determining the curriculum for every student.
Another part of the myth is that parents don’t have school choice. Right now, parents can home-school. They can send their children to a private or charter schools. They can open enroll to another public school. But they have the responsibility to pay for their own choices.
Urban myths are fun until they are weaponized by culture warriors. Let’s make sure myths aren’t driving our laws for solutions in search of problems.
Bruce Lear of Sioux City taught for 11 years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring.
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